Bishop Odo And The Phantom’s Idle Fantasies

It’s the only date any English person knows, 1066.

Okay, you might count those other two clickety-clicks’s, 1666, if you’re a Londoner and 1966 if you are one of those people actually enjoying the current weeks of international festival, but essentially there’s just the one date in English history. The date our national ass was whooped by the French.

Of course, William the Conqueror didn’t do it alone. He had one hell of an army, not least of which consisted of his three brothers (or half-brothers – famously a bastard, William’s dad was different) Odo, Robert and Richard.

It’s always good to keep power in the family when you’re a edge-of-the-dark-ages king, so William made sure of the Church’s loyalty by appointing Odo as the Bishop of Bayeux, and put him in charge of rebuilding the Cathedral there. It’s worth remembering that it takes a loooong time to build cathedrals today and took no less time in the Eleventh Century.

Odo was pretty chuffed with his new position, so when he was invited to join in with William’s latest wheeze, an invasion of England, the least he could do was send a few ships. A hundred seemed like a  nice, round figure.

It’s weird to think of bishops waging war, but apparently Odo himself rolled up his chainmail sleeves and waded in to the Battle of Hastings wielding his bow, pike, spear or whatever other weapon of choice men of the cloth used in those days.

Afterwards, the victorious William congratulated Odo and gave him Kent. It seems that William soon rather regretted that and grabbed back all the lands he’d given to his mates, keeping most for himself, and redistributing the rest.

Odo still came off pretty well. He got £3,000 a year and manors in thirteen counties. Greenwich was one of them.

Now, I bet you’ve probably already seen where this is going. You probably got it when you saw the city Odo was made bishop of. It’s a long shot, I freely admit, but it’s a Wednesday morning and I’m in a good mood.

There are many theories about who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry, even more about who made it and where. But Bishop Odo is one of the front-runners in the commissioning stakes. The embroidery features several of Odo’s cronies and it’s possible the work was commissioned for the dedication of the new cathedral in 1077.

If the Odo theory is correct, then it was probably made by Anglo Saxon artists in England (the country had a reputation for fine embroidery, known as Opus Anglicanum) and since Kent was Odo’s main stamping ground, the vegetable dyes were made from plants found in the area and there are, apparently, hints of Anglo Saxon in the Latin text, that’s good enough for a Phantom.

So this morning, I’m fantasising that the Bayeux Tapestry was actually sewn in Greenwich. There wouldn’t have been much of a town there then, and certainly no castle, but nowhere was much cop at that time – Rochester was only just being built; Dover had been grabbed back by William.

Okay – so it’s a flimsy theory and it won’t stand up to the merest puff of evidence, (apparently Canterbury is the real front-runner) but isn’t mad theories what the internet is for?

By the way, Odo had a bit of a wild life after Greenwich. He was made William’s regent for a while until he overstepped the mark. William heard complaints of misgovernment and oppression. I can’t even begin to think of how bad the oppression must have been to make it unpleasant by early medieval standards. Odo was thrown into jail until William’s death, when he was let out and promptly led a rebellion against William’s successor. It failed, of course, and Odo had to flee to Normandy, where he joined up for the First Crusade. He was killed in Palermo in 1097 and is buried there.

To see a story-telling embroidery that really was created in Greenwich, see the amazing Greenwich Millennium Embroideries

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8 Comments to “Bishop Odo And The Phantom’s Idle Fantasies”

  1. Peter says:

    As a Canterbury resident I will of course have to plump for that as the locality that the tapestry was sewn, as an aside I have taken part in many of the re-enactments of the battle of hastings, at the Battle Abbey site, in fact I can say I was amongs those who performed in the very first large scale re-enactment, it was so long ago now that I cannot remember the date- in the 1980′s I guess.
    I seem to recall that the reason they think it was sewn by Anglo Saxon women, was due to the stitch types used and the method of stitching.

  2. Anon says:

    William 1 was no more French than I am. He was a Norman, a descendent of the Vikings, and King Harold’s blood was a mish-mash of Angles, Saxons, Norse etc.

    And if William wasn’t French, I suppose the notion of ‘England’ and the ‘English’ probably wouldn’t hold water either.

    As we know, the French are no better at winning wars than the Italians are, and will claim tenuous links to other people’s victories as their own. In this case, a Viking tribe does battle with another Viking tribe, and the French, having no Military victories of note to call its own, claim that William was one of theirs.

    If you’re not sure, Google “Famous French Military Victories” and hit, “I Feel Lucky” ;-)

  3. will says:

    In David Dimbleby’s recent prog, Caterbury’s claim on the tapestry was reported as fact.

    Maybe we should be starting a campaign to get it back? Given that it was presumably made under duress (why else would you make something like that celebrating your defeat), and that as Anon says the French have no claim on it no matter where it was made, I sense a scandal that tips the Elgin Marbles into a cocked hat.

  4. Mary says:

    Phantom – you are getting even better than me at pushing the ‘everything comes from Greenwich’ line – although I have recently switched to ‘east Greenwich IS the centre of the world’. We do have a rival in Jim Lewis from the Lea Valley who claims most modern artifacts come from there – he is coming to talk to Greenwich Industrial History Society next Tuesday (this is an advert!!). However, that aside – this is all very interesting – what can we find next!

  5. I did consider claiming the Spear of Longinus is buried in a secret chamber under Love Burger in the Millennium Dome…

  6. Problem with demanding stuff back, Peter, is that we’re on such dodgy ground. I’m currently listening to The History of the World in 100 objects on R4 and realising that if everything was to go back to its original owners, we’d do a hell of a lot worse than anyone else. The British Museum would end up totally empty!

  7. Benedict says:

    …a great “yarn” Phantom….

  8. [...] No, really. Well, maybe. Well, okay, probably not. But hey – it can’t be less likely than last week when I (highly convincingly, IMHO) argued that the Bayeux Tapestry was actually woven in Greenwich…  [...]